Heavy Consequences for NFL Players Told to 'Bulk Up'

Obesity is a major issue among former players, prompting serious health problems
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2019 7:44 AM CST
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In this Dec. 23, 2007, file photo, Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Bannan is seen during an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field in Seattle. Bannan, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound lineman, was a participant in an NFL-sponsored study on large-sized players.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

What some NFL players may have to look forward to in their retirement years: football signings, endorsement deals, and broadcasting contracts. What others may find in the cards: diabetes, cardiac issues, and hypertension. Thanks to years of being told to "bulk up" in the name of the game, former players (especially linemen) often can't lose the extra weight after they turn in their cleats, and the New York Times reports that's now led to an obesity problem affecting about two-thirds of them. HuffPost notes an interactive graphic that shows the gradual weight jump among players over the years, with linemen in particular seeing the biggest spike in overall heft—one study shows the average weight of offensive linemen has risen from about 250 pounds in the '70s to 315 pounds in the 2000s, mostly due to an emphasis on the passing game and a desire to shelter the quarterbacks.

The Washington Post has reported on the number of first-year NFL players who've weighed 300 pounds or more: In 1957, there was only one; by 2013 (the last year cited), 93, and that wasn't even the year with the most—that was in 2011, with 132. The consequences of ex-players lugging extra pounds around are serious, with the Times detailing maladies such as sleep apnea, diabetes, and high cholesterol and blood pressure. The NFL and players' union have tried to spur a return to lower weight via gym memberships and health screenings for former players, but for many it's been a struggle, as some find it difficult to exercise due to injuries and other health conditions. The alternative, however, drives many to keep at it, even when the going gets tough. "How many 400-pound offensive linemen are walking around in their 50s?" former Chargers tackle Vaughn Parker says. (Don't blame the "obesity gene" for weight gain.)

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